2018 Communal Elections: Spotlight on Berchem-Sainte-Agathe

Berchem-Sainte-Agatha, a sweet combination of urban and rural.

Exploring Berchem-Sainte-Agathe is like wandering off into a countryside somewhere in the middle of a cosmopolitan city. With an area of only 295 hectares, it is one of the smallest communes in the Brussels-Capital Region and one of the few to have retained a thick pastoral accent inherited from a rich rural history.

Zavelenberg, where cows graze in front of a commercial center © Frédéric Demeuse

Urban and rural sit peacefully side by side in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe located northwest of the Brussels region. Nowhere is this contrast more pronounced than in Zavelenberg where cows seasonally graze on pasture just across the street from the Basilix commercial complex. While the commune appears more industrial around the Berchem-Sainte-Agathe railway station, the rest of its territory is marked by sprawling woods and green spaces.

Compared to other communes in Brussels, there are more houses than apartment buildings in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe. The commune has a population of 24,701 belonging to the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the upper class. Income is significantly lower in neighborhoods around the railway station and in social housing districts such as Cité Moderne and Hunderenveld. Foreign nationals make up less than 20 percent of the commune’s population with the majority coming from Romania and Morocco.

Berchem-Sainte-Agathe has been dealing with a major demographic boom over the last decade. The growing number of children born into households and the arrival of more foreigners in the commune present challenges in terms of reorganizing public infrastructure and providing more child- care and education services.

In the last six years, the local government of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe responded to the challenge by investing in the creation of new nurseries and schools, the development of a sports center, and the renovation of the commercial district of Parvis Sainte-Agathe. On the other hand, childcare and the overall cost of living remain higher in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe compared to other communes in Brussels. The situation could contribute further to the displacement of the commune’s middle class population.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe

Christian democrats have been governing Berchem-Sainte- Agathe for more than 50 years. After the 2012 communal elections, members of the Humanist Democratic Center (cdH) led the commune along with representatives from the Reformist Movement (MR). Opposition members came from the Socialist Party (PS), Socialist Party Differently (sp.a), the Ecolo-Groen alliance, DéFI (Democratic, Federalist, Independent), the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), and local party Berch’m.

In this year’s communal elections, cdH candidates will once more attempt to maintain their seat of power in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe. Together with members of the Christian Democratic and Flemish party (CD&V) and Berch’m, they will campaign under the Liste du Bourgmestre (LB) or mayor’s list. They will be up against representatives from PS, DéFI, Ecolo-Groen, and MR which has teamed up with the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open Vld).